I have come to believe that the key to long lasting happiness is connection. For years I have deluded myself into thinking that I am connected to others and the world because I receive emails daily or that I have hundreds of friends on Facebook. Then of course there is Instagram, Twitter and even Google Chat where I can interact all day long without ever having to leave my house. While these can all be considered a form of connection, it does not constitute the kind of deep resonance I need to have with others in order to maintain a sense of fulfillment and wellbeing.
For me, true connection has to happen in person. Itâ€™s about looking into someoneâ€™s eyes, touching their shoulder or seeing the smile on their face. Deep, authentic connection opens my heart, enriches my soul, and helps me grow and develop.
While my computer and cellphone have made connecting easier and more frequent, they have actually led me down a path of isolation and loneliness. My opportunities for social interaction have diminished with drive through Starbucks, online banking, teleconferencing, and online shopping. I think I might spend more time plugging in and charging my devices than I do myself, and as a result, Iâ€™m finding that my emotional, psychological and social batteries are drained.
“Throughout our lives we long to love ourselves more deeply and to feel connected with others. Instead, we often contract, fear intimacy, and suffer a bewildering sense of separation. We crave love, and yet we are lonely. Our delusion of being separate from one another, of being apart from all that is around us, gives rise to all of this pain.” – Sharon Salzberg
As humans we are hardwired to be social beings. We cannot survive without contact and connection to other members of our species. Without real human contact we simply cannot develop, and evolve in the way nature intended. The benefits of connecting in person are profound, and they cannot be replaced with feeds, friending, chatting, or texting.
Here are 6 benefits to making personal contact in real time:
Relating on an emotional level starts at birth and continues through the lifespan. â€œFeeling feltâ€ is one of the most fundamental needs we have as humans, but somehow it always ends up being the hardest one to fulfill. When we interact with other people we are constantly managing our emotions, but others can also serve as emotional regulators when we feel overwhelmed and upset. This happens through eye contact, physical touch, and tone of voice. Our eyes can calm the nervous system of another person, and a hug can generate a positive physiological response. These kinds of experiences are essential for the development and maintenance of a healthy emotional life because they help us to regulate our own internal state.
Recognizing social cues
In other cultures around the world social cues are the most common form of communication. The turn of a back, lack of a smile or cold shoulder sends an even stronger communication than words. Unless we are out in the world engaging, interacting and ultimately â€œreadingâ€ each other, we become illiterate and unable to decipher what is being communicated. Interpreting social cues is fundamental and necessary to be successful in all aspects of life. We use these skills at work, in our relationships, and anywhere we need to be in contact with others.
Trust in the body
Being around other people provides the opportunity to become more attuned to our bodily states. A feeling in our heart, a sensation in our gut, and the rhythm of our breathing are powerful sources of knowledge that we need to understand ourselves, and others. If we donâ€™t put ourselves in physical situations that ignite these self-guiding tools we are at risk of losing our intuition and the self-trust to know what feels â€œrightâ€ or â€œwrongâ€.
Anytime we lose touch with the world, we lose touch with what is â€œnormalâ€. Being around other people, socializing, working or even observing reminds us that we are all of the same species. If the majority of our time is spent behind a computer or in isolation we may lose touch with our own sense of humaneness, and make presumptions about others based on no real evidence. This leads to idealization on one end, and misrepresentation on the other. We need to be reminded that everyone, including ourselves, is flawed in some way and that knowing others helps us to know ourselves more intimately.
There is a reason why we get thirsty when others drink, and why we yawn when others yawn. As humans we have been given the gift of mirror neurons. These neurons not only allow us to predict and imitate an intentional action, they also give us the capacity to resonate with anotherâ€™s feelings. Mirror neurons are based on sensory experience â€“ visual, sound, touch, smell â€“ so they are optimally functioning when we interact with others in real life. This is how we build empathy and develop the capacity to put ourselves in another personâ€™s shoes. This is hard to do via text.
Curiosity, openness and acceptance are the keys to compassion. The more we experience, the more we interact with others, and the more we are exposed to, the better chance we have of maintaining a strong sense of compassion. Self -compassion can be strengthened in the privacy of oneâ€™s own space, but compassion for others will grow in the context of personal interaction. Being around all kinds of people builds a tolerance for pain and suffering, which in turn generates a greater sense of compassion. Remember that some of our most compassionate leaders like Mother Theresa and Gandhi did not learn and practice compassion from behind a computer.
Where do you stand with daily connection? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below or on Facebook.
Dr. Andra Brosh February 5th, 2013